Aging Changes in Skin
Skin changes are among the most visible signs of aging. Evidence of increasing age include wrinkles and sagging skin. Whitening or graying of the hair is another obvious sign of aging.
Your skin does many things. It protects you from the environment, helps regulate your body temperature, helps with fluid and electrolyte balance, and provides receptors for sensations such as touch, pain, and pressure.
Although skin has many layers, it can be roughly divided into three main portions. The outer portion (epidermis) contains skin cells, pigment, and proteins. The middle portion (dermis) contains blood vessels, nerves, hair follicles, and oil glands. The dermis provides nutrients to the epidermis.
The layer under the dermis (the subcutaneous layer) contains sweat glands, some hair follicles, blood vessels, and fat. Each layer also contains connective tissue with collagen fibers to give support and elastin fibers to provide flexibility and strength.
Skin changes are related to environmental factors, genetic makeup, nutrition, and other factors. The greatest single factor, though, is sun exposure. This can be seen by comparing areas of your body that have regular sun exposure with areas that are protected from sunlight.
Natural pigments seem to provide some protection against sun-induced skin damage. Blue-eyed, fair-skinned people show more aging skin changes than people with darker, more heavily pigmented skin.
Skin disorders are so common among older people that it is often difficult to tell normal changes from those related to a disorder. More than 90% of all older people have some type of skin disorder.
Skin disorders can be caused by many diseases including diabetes, liver disease, heart disease and blood vessel diseases such as arteriosclerosis. Stress, reactions to medications, obesity and nutritional deficiencies can be other causes.
Climate, exposures to industrial and household chemicals, indoor heating, clothing, allergies to plants and other allergies and many other common exposures can also cause skin changes.
Sunlight can cause elastosis (loss of elasticity), keratoacanthomas (noncancerous skin growths), thickening of the skin, pigment changes such as liver spots, and other conditions.
Sun exposure has also been directly linked to skin cancers, including basal cell epithelioma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Because most skin changes are related to sun exposure, prevention is a lifelong process.
- Prevent sunburn if at all possible.
- Use a good quality sunscreen when outdoors, even in the winter.
- Wear protective clothing and hats as necessary.
Good nutrition and adequate fluids are also helpful. Dehydration increases the risk of skin injury. Sometimes minor nutritional deficiencies can cause rashes, skin lesions, and other skin changes even if no other symptoms are present.
Keep skin moist with lotions and do not use soaps that are heavily perfumed. Bath oils are not recommended because they can cause you to slip and fall.
Moist skin is more comfortable and may heal better.